By the time I actively started looking for a counselor, I knew that in all likelihood what he gave me was ketamine. It was the only drug I found that explained the condition I’d been in, and once I figured that out I spoke with a pharmacist, an ER doctor (through the pharmacist), and an addiction treatment center to confirm that I was on the right track. I didn’t even mention ketamine to them when I contacted them. I only described the symptoms, made sure they knew it was in combination with a large amount of alcohol, and then let them tell me if there was anything they could think of that could have caused all that. I wanted to see if they came up with the same answer I did without me inadvertently biasing their answers. All of them said the same thing, that it sounded like ketamine and that nothing else they knew of would cause all the same symptoms, certainly not alcohol on its own. I think it’s safe to say for sure that’s what it was, and it turned out to account for a lot more than I realized, things I hadn’t even thought to attribute to it.
I found a good therapist through a friend of mine, and a total of nearly thirteen years after that night I was diagnosed with delayed onset PTSD. She said that from what I told her about the years before, I had been experiencing subthreshold symptoms off and on, but then when Tom passed away it developed into full post-traumatic stress. I was shocked. I thought only soldiers got that after being in combat and I thought it was much more immediate. I didn’t know it could take years to develop, and I thought the conditions that caused it had to be much more extreme than what I had gone through. Yeah, I’d had the night from hell, but it wasn’t anywhere near comparable to a warzone. Apparently the brain doesn’t make that kind of distinction when it comes to trauma, and relative to what my experiences were up that point, as far as my mind was concerned dealing with him and what he did was the equivalent of being in a warzone.
I was so resistant to that diagnosis. I didn't like what I thought it said about me. Considering that some of the toughest, bravest people we have in our society are diagnosed with it after months of being in the most harrowing conditions imaginable, after having their lives truly be under threat, it was humiliating to think that all it took for me was one bad night. It felt like such an overreaction even though it wasn't one I could help, kind of like the subconscious equivalent of calling an ambulance over a paper cut. The thing is, I would never think that about anyone else who'd been through it. I'd get immediately why they reacted that way and I would never think it was unjustified, but for some reason I couldn't give myself the same level of understanding. Looking at it now, I think a lot of that came from the still unresolved issue of consent, the thought that I may have somehow brought this on myself in the first place and therefore I didn't deserve to be so upset by it.
I tried every argument I could think of as to why it wasn't PTSD including picking apart the diagnostic criteria. I actually had her get out the DSM and explain point by point how each one applied to my specific circumstances. I thought I had her when she got to the part of the definition that mentions things "outside the normal human experience". I seized on that when she said it and told her, see, that on its own proves it doesn't fit. Assaults like this happen all the time, most of the girls I know have been through something like this, so how can it be considered "outside the norm"? In the world I came from, the rarity was to find someone who hadn't been traumatized in some way. What I didn't think of is that the clubs tend to attract the wounded, so there tends to be a higher concentration of us in that population than there is in mainstream society. In the mainstream it's not at all normal. Actually, as I'm writing this it strikes me that that's probably why H. and Shana reacted the way they did, because it had been normalized for them in exactly the same way it was for me. They were telling me the same things they'd been telling themselves about what had happened to them, the same places of refuge I had tried to take in my own thoughts for so many years. Nancy tried to explain it to me in every way she could think of, but it still took me quite a while to buy off on it. Looking back, I do not envy her having me as a patient; that stubborn streak of mine is a killer. My pride kept getting in the way and I didn’t want to admit that he'd been able to do that much damage or that I was that fragile. It took a lot of time, but she did manage to convince me that it didn't mean I wasn't as strong as I thought, that it didn't mean I was overreacting or somehow less than. One of the things that finally got my attention was when she pointed out that this wasn't the result of just one night, but the culmination of the twelve years I'd been constantly fighting to keep it tamped down.
We talked a lot about my reaction in the days right after, and she got me to see that in a different light, too. I’ve always hated how I handled things immediately after with H. and that I caved like that with him, I hate how cowardly and weak it felt, although I did get just a little of it back when I came to get my stuff. I had still brought one of my larger guy friends with me just in case, but I remember seeing him as I was walking out through the living room that day and something inside just snapped. Chris had gone out ahead of me, but the second I saw him I felt that same stunning surge of anger and defiance I'd felt right after the drug wore off. I'd felt a little of that when he tried to come back in the club about a week after it all happened. At the club he didn't make it much past the door before I saw him, and I had to go within several feet of him to get around the bar to the nearest bouncer. I was angry when I saw him, but mostly there was just fear. He stopped when he saw me, glaring and apparently waiting to see what I would do. I didn't wan't to go past him, but there was no way I was going to try to do my job with him in the building. The thought of having to get onstage and undress with him there was enough to override everything else I was feeling and push me to do something. I know I avoided eye contact as I went past, I'm sure I looked terrified, but I got to Buddha, told him there was a problem and that I couldn't be there if he was and asked him to make him leave. That sounds a lot calmer on paper than I actually was, and I'm pretty sure the look on my face and the way I said it played a large part in his decision to help me out. I never, ever, had people thrown out or caused any drama, so he knew I wouldn't do that without a damn good reason and thankfully he just did it with no questions asked. Lee didn't even protest. He clearly wasn't happy but I stood there as he left and I know he never said a word. Thank god Buddha backed me up on that one. I doubt it would have been pretty if he hadn't.
When I went back for my stuff, though, the feeling on seeing him wasn't primarily fear. I think something about being back in that house made a difference and seeing that he had positioned himself on the couch where I'd have to go past him again, looking at me like I was the one who wronged him, I felt my anger full force all over again. I just couldn't let things stand the way they'd been before I left, letting him think I'd stayed where he'd put me. Neither one of us said a word, but I remember he made eye contact and glared at me, trying to stare me down, only this time I held it and glared back at him as I passed by on my way out. I'll admit, it took all my nerve to do that, but I've always been glad that was the last thing he saw from me, rather than how I was on the porch or in the club, too scared to do anything but let a bouncer handle him for me rather than ordering him out myself. Not backing up, not weakened, not intimidated and off balance, but walking toward him, head up, looking him in the eyes and returning his glare for as long as he held it. It was the closest I'd felt to my usual stubborn, rebellious, five-foot-three self since all this began. I was so happy to see that that girl was still in there. I was so relieved to find that that part of me hadn’t died after all, that it had been waking up as I recovered my strength. I was so afraid it had been burned out of me for good. Never mind I started shaking as soon as I was in the car. As long as he hadn’t seen it, I didn't care.
Nancy didn't see me playing dumb as cowardice, she saw it as smart, at least in that situation. Given everything that happened, the level of shock I was in, and who I was dealing with, she didn't think I handled it badly at all. I was doing my best to think on my feet after a severe trauma and doing what I thought would keep me the safest. As far as she was concerned, that was still a form of fighting back, it was just in a way that I was able to handle at the time. I was in a temporarily weakened state, I didn't want to start a fight that would likely end badly for me, so I came up with an alternative. That's not something I'd ever blame anyone else for, so why was I beating myself up over it? She was actually kind of taken aback that I warned Shana, had him thrown out of the club when he had the nerve to try to come back in, and then went back for my stuff later. I didn't think much about it when I did those things. All I was thinking about was not letting him take anything else--he was not going to hurt my friend, he was not going to run me out of my place of business, and my fear of him was not going to cause me to abandon everything I owned.
Between her and some other factors the nightmares and panic attacks improved significantly over time, down to a very small fraction of their former intensity and frequency. They didn’t go away completely, and it may be that they never will, but at least I know how to manage them and keep the impact to a minimum when they do crop up. Most people never even know when I’m going through it; at most I may seem a little more scatterbrained and startle a bit more easily than usual, but it never lasts long.
Several years after I left that house, but before I started seeing Nancy, James and I reconnected, and he was there for me when the worst of it hit. It was long after their divorce, and he cleared up a lot for me. We got to be close friends, still are, and we ended up talking about all this one night. It was kind of inevitable that it would come up, there were things I needed to ask him, and we started comparing notes. I’d always liked him, and it was nice to find out that I had at least one person from that house pegged correctly. He knew something happened, but he didn't know what because I hadn't dared say anything to him when I was still there. I could hardly expect him to believe me over his wife and what I thought was his friend, and the last thing I needed was one more person to be worried about. He was supposed to be my way out, so alienating him was not a good idea.
As it turned out, that was another one I had all wrong. They weren't friends. He didn't trust Lee as far as he could throw him, he was just too polite to be obvious about it without grounds. Lee was someone H. had met at the club some months before and brought in to rent one of the spare rooms. He and H. always acted like old friends, so in my mind he'd already been vetted. I thought they all knew each other from before she started dancing and I never thought any more about it. I made too many assumptions and didn't ask enough questions. If I'd had any idea he started out as a customer of hers, I never would have moved in and I certainly wouldn't have trusted him like that. Those lines are there for a reason. There was quite a lot about that relationship I didn't know.
James was at work when everything happened, but she had been calling him throughout the night, starting with when the kitten died. When he realized he was in the room with me, he had told her to get him out, not to leave us alone if I was that out of it, but she’d hung up and he never knew if she heard him or not. He had a much better read on his character than I ever did. He started questioning her about it after he got home, and she said she’d left as soon as he “started messing” with me. I was never sure what she meant by that since he hadn’t laid a hand on me when she was still in the room. He asked why she would do that and what my reaction was, if I was even conscious and coherent, but all she said about my response was that I wasn’t saying no. There was no mention of anything after that except that I’d eventually left their room and gone to bed. There was also no mention at all of verbal consent, regardless of what she said days later. I should never have mentioned anything about reporting it when I was trying to get answers from her.
If I’d straight up gotten drunk and voluntarily given in after so many weeks of him trying, she would have led with that. It would have been more of an amused, “So you won’t believe what happened last night” rather than “Well she wasn’t saying no.” It was well known that he was interested and I definitely wasn’t, so much so that both of us took a lot of good-natured ribbing about it from the other roommates at the time. He knew what she was telling him didn’t completely add up, he just didn't know the extent of it. He wanted to ask me about it but I was insisting I was ok, just severely hungover, and we weren't close enough at the time for him to see the difference. Since I didn't say anything, he let it go. He was so appalled when he got the full story. He felt awful and told me if he'd been home it never would have happened, but I already knew that. He's been one of my biggest sources of support over the years and a very dear friend, and I'll be eternally grateful for him.
Strangely enough, Kyle tried to look out for me too, going to Robbie the way he did. I didn't even know he'd done it or that he realized what had happened until Robbie told me, but he went in to talk to him while I wasn’t there so that he would know to watch out for me with Lee and H. Kyle was always so overt that he was always the one I was worried about. If any male in that house made me feel a little uneasy, it was him, and then with that awful fight we had I thought he was the last person I could expect help from. I was such a horrible judge of character back then. I took everyone at face value.
After I talked to James, I was mostly reassured that I really hadn’t agreed to anything, but the uncertainty still nagged at me. Whether I consented or not didn’t change the psychological fallout because of how it happened from my point of view, but it’s always bothered me nonetheless. It’s why I questioned so much so hard, it’s a large part of why I didn’t report him, and it’s why I was always so careful never to identify him to anyone else who didn’t already know who I was talking about. If he wasn't lying about what I said, then while it was no less traumatic because of it how it felt, in reality it meant I wasn’t really forced regardless of what he put in that glass and regardless of what I remembered. It made him dishonorable and callous, but not a rapist. Nancy always tried to convince me that my concern over it was just another form of denial, and I'm finally starting to see what she meant by that.
A little over a year ago I found Lee's obituary online. He lingered in the hospital for three days as the result of a massive stroke at the age of 45 before dying as a result of it. I know he had loved ones and I did feel for them, but I cried with relief, knowing that I would never have to worry about running into him again. The first thing I did was run to the little statue of Ganpati, the god of new beginnings, that I have in my house and thank him. I'm Pagan, and while my pantheon is mostly ancient Egyptian, I ended up with Hinduism being a heavy influence during the worst of it years ago when I'd been seeing Nancy for awhile. Therapy had helped, but it had also made everything so much more intense emotionally while I worked through it all. It actually got worse before it got better, and my panic attacks had gotten so bad that I had resorted to using slight physical pain to shock myself out them. The first time was an accident. I was where I'd ended up so many times over the last several months, sitting on my bathroom floor at 3 in the morning, chest in a vice, caught halfway between breaking down completely and being unable to breathe, desperately trying not to alert my family, and I dropped my cig**ette. It hit my arm and the sudden pain jolted me out of it just enough that I was able to regain control. After that I started using it as a last resort whenever it got so bad that I absolutely could not calm down any other way. I never did any major damage, I never left anything more than a red mark that only lasted a few hours, but I found I was becoming increasingly quick to do it straight off instead of trying other ways to cope first, and I was having to hold it in place for longer and longer to get the same effect. I knew I was going too far and it was starting to scare me. I never told Nancy about that. I was too embarrassed and I was afraid of what she'd say. The 14th anniversary was approaching, so things were hitting me particularly hard. When I got within about a week of the day, I was so sick of going through it that I gave up fighting and prayed, not really caring which god was listening. I prayed that I would find something, anything, that would help me break this awful cycle, anything to keep me from being right back here this time next year, anything that there wouldn't be a next time.
Two days later I was driving my son to school, and again I noticed the beautiful white building half hidden behind the trees along our route. I admired it every time we drove by, especially on foggy days when it looked like it was emerging from so many swirling clouds. I had always thought it was a mosque, but now a sign had been put out that said it was the Hindu Cultural Center of (my city here). I had always loved the art and the spiritual philosophies of India, so I went home, looked the place up to make sure that non-members of the faith would be welcome, changed into something appropriate and went, thinking I'd learn something, appreciate the beautiful statuary, and that would be it, that I would never come back. I had no idea how vital it would become to my being able to fully heal. The place was amazing. I loved how it felt from the minute I stepped through the door, and the priests were very welcoming, thinking I was a student or something. I told them the truth, that I was curious about the building and wanted to learn more about Hinduism, that I was already polytheistic and that I had always loved what I already knew about it. There was one diety I was particularly drawn to, and when I asked who he was they said he was Sri Ganesha, the god of new beginnings and the lord of obstacles. He was known to remove obstacles in your path, but he was also known to put them in your way if you needed to change course. They actually took me through the whole blessing for him, including the prasadam. I came back the next day with an offering in return, just kind of as a thank you, and they invited me to a major festival that was being held for him that weekend. It sounded like just what I needed and I readily accepted. I ended up going there quite a bit, every Sunday for the regular aarti and puja and at least once during the week for many years.
As it happened, I had always thought that the anniversary was September 2 and the event I'd been invited to was on the 4th, but I thought it was close enough to take as a good sign. The timing seemed so perfect. It seemed to be working already since I wound up spending that 2nd out shopping with my best friend, trying to find something to wear since she was coming with me. I still don't know how I got that date wrong, but I did. That first year I was looking up the dates out of curiosity to see if the anniversary and Ganesha Chathurthi would fall on the same day the next year, and I realized that that Saturday in 1996 wasn't the the 2nd. September 2nd was that Monday when I left with James and went to Robert's. The real date was actually August 31st, the same date that I had first noticed the sign and walked into the temple. If someone did hear me and this wasn't all coincidence, then that prayer had been answered and I had found what I needed not just near the anniversary like I'd thought, but ON it, on the actual one; the date I'd had in my head all those years was actually meaningless. I had unknowingly spent the real one, the 31st, happy and engaged, not having panic attacks and intrusive thoughts, but trying to learn everything I could about what was later to be so instrumental in making sure that day was never something I dreaded again. Two days before that, I had asked for a way for there not to be a next one and there wasn't, not even the one that was coming up when I asked. I may not have known I had the date wrong, but apparently someone did and they'd timed their answer for the correct one. Go figure. The next year, I missed the anniversary. I didn't pay attention to the date approaching, and for the first time in all those years it came and went without me noticing.
The devotees were all so welcoming and generous with their faith. They welcomed me in, teaching me prayers, meditations, how to properly make an offering and accept the blessing after, how to hold my hands to absorb the energy from the small oil lamps at the gods' feet. Of course I never told any of them what had actually brought me there, they had no idea it was trauma related, but I started learning Hindi and was invited to join a Gita study class that helped me understand what had happened to me, why we go through what we go through in life sometimes. Sometimes when negative things happen to you, it's not because of your own bad karma; sometimes it's to put you where you need to be. There may be a reason you need to go through it, perhaps to be able to be someone else's good karma down the line. It all balances out in the end. Psychologically it helped because it was so far removed from my usual environment that there were no triggers there whatsoever. None. It was like having this island where none of it could get to me, where I could escape it for long enough to grow my strength. I had a physical place I could go where I felt totally at peace, where I felt completely safe, where I could check Lee and his baggage at the door and recharge and then leave to face the rest of the week. It was incredible. I fully realize this sounds like I'm ripping off Eat, Pray, Love, but I swear it was before I ever even heard of the book or saw the movie.
So this last year after finding that obit is really where I did most of the work to finally get closure on all this. Seeing it did rip open the old wounds a bit, and resurrected all the old questions I'd had. The difference was, with him gone it felt safe to talk about it and actively seek out those answers. It wasn't like it would get back to him somehow and put me back on his radar. Like I said, I spoke to H. and she explained what really happened from her point of view. She did not leave thinking Lee was going to do what he did. She knew he was unstable, but she didn't think that he would just do it with me in that condition, without making sure I was awake and ok with it. Her saying "Well she's right there..." was more of a shoulder shrug, a way of saying, yeah, try if you want to but I don't think you'll get very far. She thought I was too out of it to wake up long enough to accomplish anything. She never thought he'd be deranged enough to do something to me while I appeared to be out, as she thought I was at the time. She left him there to keep an eye on me, to make sure I didn't start throwing up and choke in my sleep or something while she went and called James. She told him to let me sleep and that she'd be in the living room if he needed her, but I missed that first part. It was so obvious to me what was going to happen if she left that I assumed it was obvious to her too when it wasn't. It actually makes what she said and did make a lot more sense when you look at it that way.
So that's pretty much it. Once I got those questions answered, all that emotional turmoil settled and it actually feels like something that happened 20 years ago. It's just another memory rather than something always right next to me, something I'm constantly turning over in my mind, trying desperately to understand the truth of it. I never forgot the kindness of the people at the clinic, particularly the first lady I encountered. The first thing I did was explain to her about them telling me I consented and about the physical response I'd had. I felt an obligation to disclose anything that might tell them my situation didn't "count" as any sort of assault, regardless of how it felt or how I was reacting to it. I didn't want to lie even by omission or waste their time. I was shocked when she told me the same thing had happened to her during her assault. This volunteer, who was married, who seemed so happy and so put together, was, as they termed it, another survivor. She had somehow healed enough to be there for the ones coming up behind her. Just meeting her showed me it was possible to make it through this and have a normal, whole life. I never forgot the impact she had, and I knew then that if I ever got to the same place myself, then I wanted to be able to be that example for others. I didn't think I'd ever be able to, but if I ever did make it that far then I wanted to pay that forward and help others get there, to do for them what she had done for me and show them it isn't hopeless. No one is there who remembers me now, but I went back to that same clinic this last April, signed on as a volunteer and went through their training program. About two thirds of the way through, a position opened up on their staff manning the chat lines. I didn't think I'd get it, but it was such a perfect opportunity that I applied anyway. I've been working there almost a month now and it's the best job I've ever had. If you've read all this, thank you, and I hope it helps in some way. I hope it tells you that you won't always feel the way you do now, that the damage isn't permanent, that you can recover and regain the things your assailant took. I hope it tells you they're the weak ones, not you.
Thanks to all, both human and not, living and dead, who helped me get here. A'net h'rak.